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Chris Klug Is a Medical Miracle, Olympic First; Genetic Engineering Could Be Sports' Worst Nightmare; NASCAR Driver Competes Despite MS

Aired February 16, 2002 - 14:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: A brush with death even before he hit the slopes. See why this young man is a medical miracle, and an Olympic first.

We'll explain why a genetic advancement could be sports' worst nightmare, but an athlete's dream come true.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was a good run.


GUPTA: And how this woman stayed on track and in the driver's seat, despite MS. Champions and the medicine that helped them beat the odds. CNN's YOUR HEALTH starts now.

Welcome to CNN's YOUR HEALTH. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Well, the Olympics are in full swing, and NASCAR's Daytona 500 is revving up. So we're going to take a closer look at athletes overcoming the odds, and try and pick up a few health tips that we can use in our own lives.

Now as a spectator, we may never really know all the things athletes go through to play with passion, achieve their dreams and to be the best. But our Elizabeth Cohen, who is the best, introduces us to one young man who crept past death and now is speeding toward gold.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what Chris Klug looks like today, but this is what he looked like a year- and-a-half ago on his way into surgery for a liver transplant. For nine years, Chris battled a rare disease called PSC, which was slowly ravaging his liver.

DR. GREGORY EVERSON, UNIV. OF COLORADO HOSPITAL: When he was the sickest, he was in bed, jaundiced, having fever and pain and looking very ill.

COHEN: He cried the day football great, Walter Peyton, died from the same disease and feared he would be next.

(on camera): There in an old saying, "What doesn't kill makes you stronger." Do you think that applies to you?

CHRIS KLUG, OLYMPIC ATHLETE: I believe in it. I really do. And that's kind of the story of my life, you know.

COHEN (voice-over): His life began 29 years ago as a preemie in the neonatal intensive care unit.

KATHY KLUG, CHRIS'S MOTHER: So he had to struggle right in the beginning.

COHEN: Then at age 10, he almost died from severe asthma.

WARREN KLUG, CHRIS'S FATHER: And that was a very scary thing. He was struggling for every breath.

COHEN: When he was 20, doctors diagnosed his liver disease. Then, a few years later, Chris crushed his knee, not sure if he would walk normally, much less snowboard again.

(on camera): And you have a strong faith in God. Did you ever say to God, hey, what's going on here? Why did you do this?

C. KLUG: Yes. I said, hey, give me hand down here. I'm struggling.

COHEN: Chris lost about 30 pounds and tried hard to stay in shape, while he waited for a new liver.

C. KLUG: It did pass through my mind many times that this might not work out. That I could die on the transplant waiting list, and this is how it's going to end.

W. KLUG: I found it hard to pray during that time, because on the one hand, we knew that the liver that Christopher needed would come at a very high price to another family.

K. KLUG: To be honest, every time I heard on the radio or television that there was somebody on life support, you say, that's an organ donor.

COHEN: Then, in July 2000, Christ finally got the call he had been waiting for. It was time for his transplant. He flew from his home in Aspen, Colorado to the hospital in Denver. His parents watched as he was wheeled into surgery.

K. KLUG: And you are standing there, and he looks right at me and he says, "Mom, am I ready for this?" And you go -- in 30 seconds you have to answer that question, you think of all of the things have gotten him ready. And you have to answer with confidence and assuredness, and you are the mom. And you go, of course you are ready for this. You whole life has gotten you ready for this.

COHEN: The surgery was a success. No rejection problems, no complications.

C. KLUG: And I remember waking up and going, I rule! It was so funny, but I had some pretty good drugs in me. I was saying some wacky things.

COHEN: Much to his doctors' amazement, Chris was snowboarding less then two months after surgery, and four months later, he won a snowboarding world cup. Now his mission: to win Olympic gold, to encourage organ donation and to meet the parents of the 13-year-old boy whose liver saved his life.

C. KLUG: I'd like to tell them in person thank you for saving my life, for giving me another chance to pursue my dreams.

COHEN: And those dreams begin today, when Chris starts his quest for a gold medal on the mountains of Utah.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Salt Lake City.


GUPTA: We think Chris and his story will make even more dreams come true as he encourages organ donation.

As for Olympic aspirations, some athletes are willing to do just about anything to get an athletic edge over their competitors. That's why we always hear so much about doping and steroids. But as Rea Blakey tells us, there's something new, and it's not so easily detected.


REA BLAKEY, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Michael Weiss, last year was riddled with foot and ankle injuries. Now the Olympic figure skater has a good shot at winning gold.

Miraculous recovery or performance enhancement? During the last three months, he's been tested several times to make sure he's not doping. His coach fully understands why.

AUDREY WEISIGER, WEISS' COACH: Most athletes who are at the Olympic level are willing to commit to just about anything that would give them the edge.

BLAKEY: And their illicit options for getting an edge are about to expand in a big way, because of genetic engineering.

LARRY BOWERS, ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: Genetic engineering will pose some very difficult problems for sport.

BLAKEY: Take the research with animals currently being conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. What started off as research designed to eventually help children with muscular dystrophy could be used to heal sports injuries, and potentially enhance athletic performance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you see is a stem cell that has been injected into a skeletal muscle.

BLAKEY: Though scientists don't know all the potential human side effects, they say growing new tissue from stem cells like these could help increase an elite athlete's strength and endurance.

JOHNNY HUARD, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH MOLECULAR GENETICS: Yes, the growth factor that we're using, the stem cell that we're using and the gene therapy that we've been performing could be used to improve the strength of a muscle.

BLAKEY: And at this point, nobody would ever know.

BOWERS: There will not be testing for human growth hormone at this Olympics.

BLAKEY: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Freddie Fu is excited about the healing potential of genetic engineering, but acknowledges there's potential for abuse.

FREDDIE FU, UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH: There's going to be a whole new ball game. And in fact, cannot be detected by any doping means.

BLAKEY: That's right. For now, detecting a genetically modified muscle required a biopsy of the tissue, not a realistic proposition for an athlete about to compete.

HUARD: What we're trying to do in our lab as well is try to detect byproduct of those stem cells and growth factor that you can maybe detect in the blood. So in a way that you will be capable to test those athletes later on.

BLAKEY: Skating coach Audrey Weisiger believes genetic engineering will have its place in sports.

WEISIGER: I think it has to be done in a scientifically sound manner, where it's ethical and it is also very highly regulated. If I can have a doctor's approval on things, I'm the first person to sign up for it.

BLAKEY: As for Michael Weiss, he admits the idea of using genetic engineering is appealing.

MICHAEL WEISS, SKATER: Certainly athletes are always looking to improve their performance as best possible.

BLAKEY (on camera): What's Weiss' secret? Multivitamins, he says, and 17 years of hard work and dedication. But that could soon change. Scientists on the forefront of genetic manipulation predict in as little as five to 15 years, genetically engineered athletes might be quite common place.

Rea Blakey, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA: Well, genetic engineering isn't the only interesting development in medical news. Here's Rhonda Rowland with the latest on Viagra, Ecstasy and Alzheimer's, as we check "The Pulse."


RHONDA ROWLAND, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The impotence drug Viagra doesn't cause heart attacks, according to a new study. Researchers say Viagra doesn't restrict blood flow to the heart, but men should still have their hearts checked before taking it.

And few parents were ecstatic when they heard there's been a 71 percent increase in teens using the drug Ecstasy. So a $2 million ad campaign is being rolled out. It's designed to change the drug's image with teens, and help parents become more aware of Ecstasy's dangers and how to spot it.

Finally, a great excuse to have fun. Researchers in Chicago found the more you use your mind, the better chance you have avoiding Alzheimer's disease, especially if you're a senior. That means read, play games, go to museums, whatever, just stay mentally active. And there's news about more government money for Alzheimer's. For more on that, go to our Web site, at

I'm Rhonda Rowland, and that's a check of this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


GUPTA: Thanks, Rhonda. Well, from west to east in 35 days, and the food that's going to get them there. Diet and nutrition tips from record breakers are just ahead.

Plus, racing against time as researchers race to find a cure. How this NASCAR driver continues to cross the finish line despite MS. When YOUR HEALTH continues.


GUPTA: Welcome back to YOUR HEALTH. Keeping on track even when your life is moving 100 miles an hour. Quite literally. For one NASCAR driver, it's an even greater accomplishment, because she's also racing against multiple sclerosis. Once again, Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By now, Kelly Sutton was supposed to be in a wheelchair. And she does spend a lot of time in a chair, and it does have wheels, but it goes 150 miles an hour.

KELLY SUTTON, NASCAR DRIVER: I'm really competing with myself and the MS, showing that I can do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go, go, go, go, go. COHEN: Since she was five, Kelly knew she wanted to be a race car driver, just like her father and grandfather. But then...

SUTTON: I was diagnosed at 16 years old, and at that point, I thought my world had come to an end. I didn't want anybody to know. I didn't want to go on living. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and just die.

COHEN: Her doctors told her that by age 25 or so, her multiple sclerosis would be so bad, she wouldn't be able to walk. And they were right.

SUTTON: In '96, I had a severe attack and was in a wheelchair pretty much all year of '96, and we thought that that was the end.

COHEN: But MS can be an unpredictable and changing disease. Kelly, now 30, did get out of that chair, and she hasn't had an attack since. She says in part because of one of newer MS drugs the company now sponsors her team, and because of her family support.

SUTTON: Well, my dad came to me and said, you know, Kelly, do you still want to race? And I said, well, can I? You know, I have MS, because -- I'm going to give you your dream, your mother and I are going to give you your dream.

COHEN: Kelly says she now feels almost 100 percent.

(on camera): Do you feel better some days, worse other days, or are you pretty constant now?

SUTTON: I'm pretty constant. The only thing that I have on the daily basis is the tick. I deal with the tick.

COHEN (voice-over): Kelly's doctors advised her not to race, because it's stressful. She spends at least an hour in her car, and as I found out, it's cramped in there.

SUTTON: It's hot in here, and I'm not even going anywhere.

It gets to be 120 degrees in here. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) healthy.

COHEN: But Kelly says racing is actually good for her.

SUTTON: And I think that stress might bring out the MS, but I don't have that kind of stress. I have good stress.

COHEN: Like the thrill of success.

SUTTON: Oh, man! That was a good run!

COHEN: Last weekend in Daytona, she finished 11th, even though she started way back in the pack, in 34th place.


SUTTON: I think so. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ran a good race. You really did. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SUTTON: I feel like I'm on top the world right now!

COHEN: Kelly knows it might not always be this good. Her disease could strike again at any time, because MS drugs, no matter how effective, only slow the progression. They don't provide a cure. But, for now...

SUTTON: If you got a dream, follow it. Don't let MS stop you from doing what you love to do.

COHEN: She feels like a winner.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Daytona Beach, Florida.


GUPTA: Well, there's more from NASCAR just ahead. But first, the only U.S. team among an international group of 50 and the diet that's going to get them across the Atlantic. Those stories and more when YOUR HEALTH continues.


GUPTA: Two centuries ago, a pair of Norwegian fishermen were the first to cross the North Atlantic in a row boat, all thanks to a bet. But this year, that same journey is bringing international champions together for the 2002 Atlantic Challenge. Here's Liz Weiss with what the U.S. team will use for fuel.


LIZ WEISS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The thought of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean may seem crazy. But to John Ziegler and Tom Mailhot, it's good competition.

JOHN ZIEGLER, CREW MEMBER: We want to be with the best. We want to be in that top tier, the top 5 percent, or even win.

WEISS: To do that, they hired a dietitian to plan the menu. What they got was a high-fuel diet of 8,000 calories a day.

TOM MAILHOT, CREW MEMBER: The team out there that eats the best is going be one of the strongest teams in this race.

WEISS: But eating isn't always easy, especially when you're rowing 16 hours a day under the hot sun.

NANCY CLARK, DIETITIAN: These guys are going to be rowing in the tropical heat, and heat kills the appetite. So they have to be buddies. They have to watch if the other person is eating their full allotment of food.

WEISS: Clark added variety to the menu, to prevent what she calls "taste bud burnout." She also suggested a lot of fatty foods, to keep the guys from losing weight and getting weak.

CLARK: This is not the healthiest diet, but I'm really focusing on calories. And to get calories in a small amount of weight, you need a high fat diet. That's why they will be chomping on sticks of pepperoni for dinner, or they will be adding oil to their macaroni and cheese, or oil to their oatmeal, just to bring the calories up.

WEISS: Each boat had to carry 90 days worth of food, and that's a lot of added weight. So things like dried apricots made the menu over heavier items like canned fruit.

MAILHOT: We've been handed the flag, and we're going to our best out there to represent our country and come in first.

WEISS: For "Feeling Fit," I'm Liz Weiss.



GUPTA: NASCAR drivers speed around the track so quickly, they go by in a blur. But many of the teams aren't just racing for their fans, themselves, or even their sponsors. They're actually quite driven to make a difference for those who need a miracle in a hurry.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the neat thing about what we see in working with the Breast Cancer Foundation, we get a lot of e-mails, opportunities to meet a lot of the survivors, telling us how wonderful things are going -- and those are the fun things. And then NASCAR sees that and allows a lot of these folks to come in and be a part of our little world for a while, and hopefully brighten their world a little bit.

We've been able to donate quite a bit of money to the foundation. And it's something that Kelly, my wife and I, we feel very strongly about. It's a wonderful organization that is working extremely hard to find a cure for breast cancer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, this is a tough sport. It's competitive, but yet when it comes down to it, we all want to help out when it comes down to helping an individual or a group out that's in need. Somebody recognizes me and know that I help out that program, I hope that helps the program out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, I developed leukemia I '96. You never get ready for a doctor to tell you that you're terminally ill, and right away, you know, looking for treatments I found out that, you know, that there was a dire need in this country for people to be aware of an opportunity to give that gift of life, and finding a match for someone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all carry the 1-800 number on our cars. People that have donated marrow to recipients that have, you know, done well, and one of them in particular was the guy -- we did a bone marrow drive, and the guy only came to the drive to get an autograph from me. And I talked him into getting tested, and he came up a match and was a donor, and saved some lady's life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll tell you, championships are great. But nothing will compare with seeing those people and their faces.

NASCAR has got a reputation of being a family, and everybody working together. We race awful hard against each other, but in a time of need everybody stands up and helps everybody else.


GUPTA: Well, I'm glad you decided to watch YOUR HEALTH today. We want to take some time now to answer your e-mail questions.

Our first question is: "What are autoimmune disorders?"

Thanks, Donna. Well, you may have heard of lupus or even Hashimoto's thyroiditis. These are both examples of autoimmune disorders. These disorders typically occur when the body starts to produce cells that attack normal tissue. These cells, called antibodies, cannot tell difference between normal tissue and foreign tissue. It's a subject of considerable search as to why this occurs in the first place, and the answer is still not fully known. But in general, autoimmune disorders can be treated with steroids, which tend to decrease the antibody production.

Our second question: "Is there a cure for boldness?"

Well, Deepak, the bad news is that two out of every three men will eventually experience some form of balding. Usually it's hereditary, but it can also be caused by illness, drugs and poor diet. You do need to be concerned if you have unexplained bald patches, sudden hair loss in any part of the body or if the bald patches are ring-like with red scales. Now, if you're one of the 40 million men or 20 million women who have generalized hair loss, there are some therapies which may provide some help. Medications like Monoxodil, better known as Rogaine, can actually stimulate hair growth, while medications like Propecia slow the rate of hair loss.

Propecia is not recommended for women and does require a prescription. Rogaine, on the other hand, can be purchased over-the- counter in lower strengths. But if you have a heart condition, you probably shouldn't use it. As with any new medication, check with your doctor before starting anything new.

If you'd like more information on any of the topics we covered today, be sure to go to our Web site, that's at And please, don't forget to send me your "Ask the Doctor" e-mails. Send them to yourhealth -- one word --

For everyone on the CNN health team, I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. We hope you'll join us again next week.




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